a1 The International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), PO Box 5466, Aleppo, Syria.
a2 The International Center for Maize and Wheat Improvement (CIMMYT), El-Batan, Mexico.
Sustainability has recently become an ingrained concept in crop production systems worldwide, and is the cornerstone of research programs of the global network of research centers operated by the Consultative Group of International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), which functions in collaboration with the various national agricultural research systems. One of the major CGIAR centers, the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), focuses mainly on dryland agriculture, but increasingly on irrigation, in its mandate area of West and Central Asia and North Africa. ICARDA has collaboration programs with its host country, Syria, the cradle of civilization and of settled agriculture, and the center of origin of many of the world‘s major crops, notably cereals and pulses. Wheat is, and has been, the most important commodity food in Syria. The Center‘s goal is to enhance wheat productivity in a sustainable manner for the benefit of the country‘s resource-poor farmers and society as a whole. Wheat is grown on about 1.5 million ha or 27% of the total cultivated land in Syria, mainly under rainfed conditions (300–500 mm annual rainfall), which are increasingly experiencing supplemental irrigation, while drier (<200 mm) areas are fully irrigated. Improved cultivars generally combine high yield potential and stress tolerance and tend to have high yield stability, being input-efficient under limited resources in stress environments and input responsive under favorable environments. Such varieties are tested under farmers‘ conditions through multi-year multi-locations. Other aspects of the ICARDA–Syrian collaboration wheat program include improved tillage, with an emphasis on conservation systems, adequate fertilization, and improved agronomic practices, e.g., early sowing in relation to rainfall conditions, optimum row spacing and plant population, and adequate weed control. This vigorous collaborative research–technology transfer program has produced a major shift in wheat production in Syria, from traditional low-input practices with landrace or improved cultivars to widespread adoption (two-thirds of wheat area) of modern cultivars along with improved production technology. As a result of such efforts, national income has substantially increased, and Syria has become a net exporter of wheat. Thus, the collaborative efforts of an international research center and its host country have shown clearly that there is an alternative to a traditional, low-output agriculture and its associated ills.
(Accepted June 10 2003)